Understanding brooding and how to ensure chicks survive

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By JOHN MUCHIBI

Success or failure of a poultry business depends largely on how a farmer looks after chicks during their initial days of life after hatching.

This is crucial during such times when it is a little bit cold. Is it normal to lose one chick? What about 10?

As depressing as it is, mortality has a bad effect on poultry farming.

But no matter how perfect a farmer’s systems are, there will be some deaths.
But excessive mortality is an indicator that something is not right.

Most of the time, mortality in chicks occurs during brooding.

A farmer should expect to lose 1 to 2 per cent of chicks during this period.

This may increase if they were chilled, dehydrated, had infected navels or were obtained from poor or young breeding stocks.
Losing more than 2 per cent during your first week may indicate a bad chick source, a bad batch of chicks or improper management. Losing them after the first week is always due to incorrect management.

 

Brooding

Just like a mother hen sits on her chicks to provide warmth, brooding is the provision of artificial heat to chicks until they grow sufficient feathers and are able to regulate their own body temperatures.

A newly hatched chick does not have a fully developed thermo-regulatory mechanism until after at least two weeks of age.

Normally, the chicks are not able to maintain their body temperature properly and may chill to death if not kept warm. Brooding period is critical and is between day one to about four weeks.

 

Types of brooding and equipment

Brooding is natural as happens with a broody hen or artificial when dealing with many chicks in the absence of mother hens.

The equipment used for brooding is called a brooder, which includes heat source, a reflector and brooder-guard. The heat source could be a heat lamp, a charcoal jiko and an infra-red bulb.

Where electricity is available, it is advisable to use the infra-red bulb owing to the challenges of using a charcoal jiko, which include refilling of the charcoal a couple of times particularly at night.

Ordinarily, a one 250 watts infra-red bulb is sufficient for 150 to 250 chicks.

The bulb is placed at the centre of the brooder.

The brooder guard, made from cardboard sheets or mats, prevents the chicks from straying far away from the heat source.

The brooder guard must be circular with no corners to avoid huddling of chicks at the corners which can cause suffocation and death.

The height of the brooder guard should be about 1.5ft. A brooder guard with a diameter of 4m is sufficient for about 500 chicks.

The bedding should be about 2 inches thick preferably from absorbent material such as wood shavings that absorb moisture from the chick droppings and also insulate them from a cold floor.

 

Receiving chicks

Two weeks before arrival of chicks, the house should be cleaned with soap and water, then disinfected.

Spread clean, dry litter material and then old newspapers over the litter.

Arrange feeders and drinkers in alternating fashion.

Check the brooder for proper temperature 24 hours prior to arrival of chicks.

Switch on the brooder heating source several hours (6-12) before the arrival of the chicks to maintain required brooding temperature.

After arrival of chicks, count them and place in the brooder, provide medicated water for about three hours before introducing feeds. Feeds are spread on the newspapers.

Provide glucose, vitamins and liquid paraffin (not kerosene) in the drinking water for one week or so to overcome stress.

Brooder temperatures

Maintain a brooder temperature of 30 – 32°C for the first week and then reduce by 3°C every week until it reaches the room temperature.

Alternatively, you could watch the behaviour of chicks in the brooder to find out whether the temperature provided is correct. In case of too much heat, chicks move away from the source, exhibiting signs of heat stress (panting, drowsy, stretched wings and diarrhoea with matting around the vent).

In such a case, reduce the heat by cutting the power of the bulb or raise the bulb higher. In case of too low temperature, chicks huddle under the heat source, making noise and some may die due to chilling. Correct this by adding heat source or further lowering the infra-red bulb. In the event there’s draught, provide curtains.

Remove brooder guard after three to four weeks. While removing the brooder guard, ensure that the corners of the sheds are rounded to avoid huddling.

Change the feeders and drinkers according to age and requirement.

24 hours lighting programme should be adopted during 0-8 weeks of age. One hour darkness may be provided to train the chicks in case of any power failure.

Medication programme

Other than the use of glucose/dextrose, vitamins and liquid paraffin, the farmer must adhere to the vaccination programme provided by the supplier of chicks.

Procure vaccines from the right suppliers and observe cold chain requirements when transporting vaccine. For water medicated vaccines, avoid use of treated water.

As for specific treatments when chicks get sick, the farmer should get the advice of a veterinarian.

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